When you don't need to worry, there'll be days like this
Game #9-398: Charlotte 49ers at Butler BulldogsFebruary 13, 2013 7:00 pm
When no one's in a hurry, there'll be days like this
When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there'll be days like this
Van Morrison - Days Like This
Butler returned home after a shaky weekend trip to George Washington, and prepared to face a Charlotte team that has quietly and somewhat surprisingly stayed competitive in a wild Atlantic 10 conference race. The 49ers had suffered two bad road losses in conference play (at Richmond and at GW), but otherwise had been very solid in getting off to a 5-4 conference mark, 17-6 overall. On paper, I wasn't easily able to determine the secret to Charlotte's success. They generally seemed to be good defensively, but then I noticed that they gave an average of 84 points per game in their last three conference road games, all of which were losses. On offense, they didn't seem to be prolific shooters; however, they did appear to score a relatively high percentage of their shots inside the lane, they converted those at a high rate, and they seemed skilled at drawing a lot of fouls on their opponents. But with Butler at home, where they were 12-0 on the season, maybe I didn't need to worry about this one.
On Monday afternoon, Butler announced that senior center Andrew Smith had suffered an abdominal injury in the win at GW, and would miss at least the next game against Charlotte. With that news, anxiety started to set in. Smith is the anchor of the Butler defense, and the rest of the frontcourt players are relatively undersized. If they would struggle to handle Charlotte's inside strength, or if they would find themselves in foul trouble, this could be a very difficult game.
When Butler played a three and a half game stretch in January after Rotnei Clarke's neck injury, I was impressed with their ability to have other members of the team step up and make up for Clarke's absence. Kellen Dunham was inserted into Clarke's spot in the starting lineup, and became more aggressive in finding shots within the flow of the offense, while the bench as a whole provided consistently productive play during those games. Only a buzzer-beating shot by Ramon Galloway at LaSalle prevented Butler from going undefeated while Clarke was unavailable. With Smith now being out, I was hopeful that the bench would respond in a similarly positive manner. Even with that mild optimism heading into the game, it was still disconcerting to find myself mentally playing the old Sesame Street game of "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others" as pre-game warmups concluded.
The game began in Butler's favor. A three-pointer from Dunham opened the scoring, and a putback from Roosevelt Jones gave the Dawgs a 5-2 lead. Charlotte had committed two early turnovers, had missed a couple of fairly easy shots, and I was starting to think that Butler might have a chance to open up an early cushion. But just then, the momentum shifted Charlotte's way. Willie Clayton powered his way to two baskets, Denzel Ingram converted on a three-pointer, and Pierria Henry knocked down a couple of mid-range jump shots. When Chris Braswell entered the game and quickly scored on a driving layup, the 49ers had completed a 14-4 run, and Butler was in a hole.
The Bulldogs would fight back and the lead would change hands several times throughout the rest of the first half. Charlotte's offense continued to come almost exclusively from either layups or jump shots from very short range. Butler could not consistently prevent them from attacking the basket. Another Braswell layup gave the 49ers a 29-27 lead, and the half closed with a bizarre sequence in which Henry drove to the basket and missed a contested layup. As the teams battled for the rebound, it appeared clear (at least to me) that Butler's Khyle Marshall had inadvertently tipped the ball back into his own basket moments before the halftime buzzer, but one of the officials vigorously waved off the basket. As the teams started to their respective locker rooms, the officials huddled up and indicated that the basket was good, giving Charlotte a 31-27 edge. Finally, the men in the stripes reviewed the play at the scorer's table monitor, and after extensive analysis, again waved off the basket. I still have no idea why the score did not count, but was slightly more relieved to be facing just a two point deficit.
On a number of occasions this season, I've written here about how Butler has been able to shake off a somewhat lethargic first half performance with a strong surge to open the second half. So, as I endured a peculiar halftime fitness demonstration, complete with a screaming instructor, I prepared myself for an early second half Butler run that would break the game open in their favor. That run did not occur.
Charlotte would again play the role of the aggressor. Ingram opened with a short jump shot, then Henry and Clayton both attacked the basket with too little resistance. Butler's Erik Fromm, who replaced Smith in the starting lineup, made back-to-back three-pointers to keep the Bulldogs close, but as the game moved along, Charlotte extended the advantage behind consistently strong low post play from Braswell, Clayton, and Darion Clark. Butler adjusted its defense to clog the foul lane area, but just could not get enough defensive stops to cut into the 49er lead.
Offensively, nearly all of Butler's attack came from the combination of Jones and Fromm. Butler's bench, so critical to maintaing success while Clarke was injured, would contribute a total of zero points in a combined 51 minutes of action. As for Clarke, the Bulldogs' leading scorer headed into the final media timeout with a total of three points, having made just one of nine field goal attempts. At that point, Butler trailed 59-50 with 3:30 left to play, and Darion Clark headed to the foul line for Charlotte.
Clark made the first free toss to increase the lead to ten, but missed on the second. Jones grabbed the rebound for Butler, and passed to Rotnei Clarke who raced down the court. Because shooters gotta shoot, Clarke fired away from three-point range, and finally connected. After Charlotte worked the full shot clock, Henry misfired on a semi-desperate superhoop, Butler rebounded the miss and eventually got the ball to Dunham, who was fouled and then made both free throws. Charlotte's lead was cut to 60-55.
In their next two possessions, Charlotte was again able to get shots off from relatively close range, with baskets by E. Victor Nickerson and Darion Clark offsetting another Rotnei Clarke three-pointer. After Clarke missed another three-pointer, Braswell was fouled and made one of two free throws for Charlotte. Then, after Clarke had the ball stolen by Henry, Ingram was fouled and made one of two free throws for Charlotte. Charlotte's lead stood at 66-58 with 30 seconds to play.
Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, you should realize that Butler rarely goes away quietly, especially not at Hinkle Fieldhouse, so there was still some fight left in these Dawgs. Clarke connected on another long three, and Ingram was immediately fouled on the inbound pass. He made one of two free throws.
On the next possession, Clarke again tried to fire up from long range, but this time drew a foul on Charlotte's Terrence Williams - three successful free tosses later, the Charlotte lead was down to three. Henry was fouled, and made one of two free throws. Clarke rushed down the court and fired up a shot from about 25 feet away, which swished through the net. The Hinkle crowd, collectively docile throughout the entire evening, roared in a mixture of approval and disbelief. Nine seconds remained, and Charlotte led 68-67. Clarke, who had been almost completely ineffective throughout the entire game, had scored fifteen points in the past 3:12 of action, and had scored nine points in the last fourteen seconds.
On the inbound pass, Henry was fouled by Roosevelt Jones. That was the fifth foul on Jones, leaving Butler without its two best rebounders. For the sixth consecutive time for Charlotte, Henry made one of two free throws. Chase Stigall rebounded the missed second attempt for Butler, bobbled the ball, may have traveled, and was bailed out by a timeout call from the Butler bench. 3.1 seconds to play, Butler down by 2, with the ball to be inbounded from the East sideline about 35 feet away from the goal.
During the timeout, Coach Stevens inserted Marshall back into the lineup. Stevens has developed an uncanny knack of drawing up successful plays off of inbound passes after timeouts. I thought that with all of the attention that Clarke was certain to attract, Butler may be able to sneak an easy layup or dunk from Marshall. However, that would only tie the game; even with all of this momentum, I didn't know how Butler would be able to stop Charlotte without two of its best defenders.
Most of these special plays rely on Jones to be the inbound passer, except for fullcourt heaves, in which case senior Emerson Kampen is beckoned from the end of the bench. For this play, Stigall was the designated passer, and he was guarded on the play by the 6'-8" senior Braswell. Stigall's pass, intended for Marshall around the rim, did not have enough arc on it, and was easily intercepted by Nickerson. Post game discussion with the Butler coaching staff indicated that the plan was for Marshall to score if he had a good look, or kick it out to either Clarke or Dunham if he did not. He didn't get the chance to do either.
Yes, I must remember there'll be days like this.
CHARLOTTE 71, at BUTLER 67
CHARLOTTE 18-6 (6-4) -- K. Gaillard 4-6 0-0 10; E. Nickerson 2-6 4-5 8; P. Henry 6-12 4-7 17; D. Ingram 3-4 2-4 9; D. Clark 4-7 2-4 10; C. Braswell 4-8 3-5 11; W. Clayton 5-6 1-2 11; T. Williams 1-3 1-2 3; I. Benkovic 0-1 0-0 0; M. Thorne 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-48 17-29 71.
BUTLER 20-5 (7-3) -- R. Jones 7-13 3-6 17; R. Clarke 5-14 3-3 18; K. Dunham 3-7 4-4 12; E. Fromm 5-8 0-0 13; K. Woods 0-2 0-1 0; K. Marshall 3-9 1-3 7; C. Stigall 0-3 0-0 0; A. Barlow 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-3 0-0 0; J. Aldridge 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-59 11-17 67.
Three-point goals: CHAR 2-5 (C. Braswell 0-1; P. Henry 1-2; I. Benkovic 0-1; D. Ingram 1-1), BUTL 10-29 (R. Clarke 5-13; C. Stigall 0-3; E. Fromm 3-6; A. Smeathers 0-2; K. Dunham 2-5); Rebounds: CHAR 33 (D. Clark 9), BUTL 30 (E. Fromm 9); Assists: CHAR 8 (P. Henry 3), BUTL 9 (R. Clarke 3); Total Fouls -- CHAR 17, BUTL 21; Fouled Out: CHAR-None; BUTL-R. Jones.